In many beginner material, が is said to be a subject marker. (For example this one) However, my teacher who learnt Japanese in Japan said he has never heard such a saying.

And in his teaching, it is very clear that が is really not a subject marker. In many cases it is marking object instead. For example:

I have a sister / sisters.

There is a cat under the table.

I am not good at cooking

I love Japanese

These examples are just beginner level examples, right? Of course there are also cases that が is marking the subject, but with so many cases that it is actually marking the object instead, I wonder why there is a saying that が is an subject marker?

  • 4
    To me it seems that it's marking a subject in all those examples. For example, 私は妹がいます, literally translated means 'in regards to me, a little sister exists', in which case it is an action being carried out by, not on, the sister. 私は料理が苦手です would mean 'my cooking is bad', in which case it is the cooking carrying out the action of being bad. And in 私は日本語が大好きだ, there's no verb; rather than me liking the Japanese, the Japanese is likable in my opinion.
    – M Palmer
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 16:22
  • @MPalmer For the opposing view, see Masatoshi Koizumi's chapter Nominative Object in The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Linguistics (2008).
    – user1478
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


The particle が is referred to as a subject marker because that's what it is. It marks the subject of a sentence. That's its primary purpose.

Even in two of the four sentences you provided, it's quite clearly marking the subject of the verb います. Don't get confused because the "sister" and "cat" are both objects in the most natural English translation of those sentences - the basic meaning of います is "exist", and the sister/cat are clearly the subject of that action. A very literal English rendering of the two sentences would be "As for me, a sister exists." and "Beneath the table, a cat exists." - in both of which the noun marked by が is the subject.

It's true that there are a handful of adjectives such as 苦手 and 好き which use が in an unusual way which could be called an object role (though depending on the analysis, you can consider even these to be subjects), but these are an exception rather than the rule, and should be learned as such. In its standard usage, が unambiguously marks the subject of the sentence.

The main reason why calling が the "subject particle" can confuse people is because there's already another particle, は, which ends up marking the subject in most sentences. However, it's important not to learn は as a simple subject marker, because the "topic" is a more flexible concept which can actually fulfil numerous roles in a sentence. It's just that in the majority of cases, the topic doubles as the subject (and so the actual subject marker が is omitted).

  • A predicate in a sentence expresses an action (via action verbs) or a state (via state verbs or copulas) of the subject. In this light there is no exception to 苦手です and 好きだ - these are simple state predicates.
    – Nutkin
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 2:43

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